Bug o’the Week – Wildflower Watch – Water Hemlock

Howdy, BugFans,

In mid-summer, water hemlock bloomed lushly in the swamps at the north end of the Bog.

A note about water hemlock (Cicuta maculata), a wetland plant that looks like Queen Anne’s lace on steroids. It’s related to the plant that killed Socrates but is in a different genus, and it’s probably the most poisonous plant in the Western hemisphere – to taste, not to touch. It can kill you within 20 minutes of eating it. Cicutoxin is a central nervous system stimulant that causes severe seizures and respiratory paralysis. Some books say that the root “smells edible” (insert BugLady eye roll here), and some people have mistaken it for the root of the edible Wild parsnip (which looks completely different to the BugLady, has yellow flowers, and grows in uplands instead of wetlands). All parts are poison (the insects are unaffected), especially the stem and root. The seeds, the least-poisonous part of the plant, look like fennel, anise, and dill seeds, and other members of the carrot family – wild food browsers beware. Despite its toxicity, small amounts of the plant were used medicinally by Native Americans, and they employed violent purges to treat accidental ingestion.

Anyway, the plants were hopping for about two weeks. Here are some of the insects that the BugLady saw – the stars of most of them are not hitched to water hemlock, it’s just that there was a ton of it in bloom and not much of anything else.

BI-COLORED PYRAUSTA – An eye-catching, day-flying moth in the Crambid/snout moth family with a wingspan of just under ¾”. It inhabits the eastern US from Texas, and its host plants are probably mints (lots of gaps in its biography). Pyrausta is Greek for “a winged insect that lives in fire.”

CARROT WASP – or Gasteruption. What a cool little wasp, with its high-arced abdomen! Bugguide.net says that “Gasteruption have a characteristic hovering flight with the swollen metatibiae hanging down so that the insect resembles a helicopter carrying a large load on a cable.” Since the BugLady has seen a helicopter carrying a large load on a cable, she will look at it with different eyes next summer. Adults are found on flowers, but their larvae are carnivores, living within the nests of cavity-dwelling, solitary bees and feeding on their larvae.

ICHNEUMON WASP, AROTES – Another classy wasp! Bugguide.net describes Arotes as “A group of boldly-patterned, medium-sized ichneumons.” The larvae of Ichneumons are mostly parasites of immature invertebrates; Arotes favors beetles – members of the metallic wood-boring, the long-horned, the false darkling, and the tumbling flower beetle families, all of which are found under bark.

PEACHTREE BORER MOTH – Each summer, hummingbird clearwing moths dance around the BugLady, mocking her camera. The Peachtree borer is from the other clearwing moth family Sesiidae, many of which are wasp-mimics (note the scale-free and therefore clear portions of the wings). Lots of internet Wanted Posters on the Peachtree borer because of the damage done by its larvae as they tunnel around within the roots and lower trunk of commercial peach, plum, and cherry trees. They are sexually dimorphic (two forms), with the more colorful female https://bugguide.net/node/view/981311/bgimage, and the equally-spectacular male https://bugguide.net/node/view/815698/bgimage.

PHANTOM CRANE FLY – The BugLady usually sees these exquisite little flies drifting in and out of the shadows at the edges of wetlands (their larvae live in the mud https://bugguide.net/node/view/1927371/bgimage). She was surprised to see this one sprawled on flower clusters (umbels). Some sources say that the adults don’t eat much, but others say that they feed on nectar.

WHITE-STRIPED BLACK MOTH – Sometimes when she’s leading a field trip, the BugLady asks people what they would name the plants and animals we see. This little moth is a no-brainer. According to Sogaard, in Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods, Black-striped white moths have very sensitive “bat-detectors,” structures that are superfluous in a day-flying species. This suggests that the day-flying habit is relatively recently acquired.

SWEAT BEE – There are three species of sweat bee in the genus Augochloropsis – this is probably the Metallic epaulleted [sic]-sweat bee (A. metallica). Sweat bees are important native pollinators that visit a wide variety of flowers, and sometimes also eat honeydew from aphids. Female Augochloropsis dig a tunnel straight down into the earth and then make a lateral tunnel off of it. There they make cells for their eggs and provision them with pollen and nectar.

RED-SHOULDERED PINE BEETLES are members of the Long-horned beetle family Cerambycidae, whose larvae are often wood borers. Red-shouldered pine beetle larvae live in dead and decaying pine, hemlock, and fir, where their excavations help get the decomposition ball rolling.

BANDED HAIRSTREAK – Small, drab (unless newly-minted https://bugguide.net/node/view/803024/bgimage) butterflies – the BugLady searched for picture of one with its wings open, but she couldn’t find one. This is a butterfly of fields, edges, and open woodlands; males perch on vegetation to check their territory for females and for rivals (who they chase vigorously). It is suspected that ants may care for the caterpillars https://bugguide.net/node/view/803004/bgimage, as they do for some species of Azure caterpillars.

GRAY COMMA – Adults don’t visit flowers much; they get their nutrients from sap flows on damaged trees. In the Bog, gooseberries are the host plants for its spiny caterpillar https://bugguide.net/node/view/937966/bgimage. Like other “anglewings,” the Gray Comma overwinters as an adult, in a sheltered nook called a hibernaculum. The “comma” on the underside of its wings is more “V-shaped” https://bugguide.net/node/view/964668/bgimage.

ROBBER FLY LAPHRIA – Not all the insects on the water hemlock were plant feeders. This is Laphria sacrator (probably), a fairly common fly of woodlands in the eastern half of the country. Robber flies in the genus Laphria are called the Bee-like/Bee-mimic robber flies. Several kinds of robber flies surveyed the water hemlocks, looking for flying insects, including smaller robber flies, to tackle in mid-air. Size is no object.

GNAMPTOPELTA OBSIDIANATOR – The BugLady saw a few species of insects that were new to her, and this is one of them. For years, she’s been taunted by Thyreodon atricolor (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1688339/bgimage), a spectacular Ichneumon wasp that cruises through the underbrush slowly and without stopping to have its picture made. Gnamptopelta obsidianator https://bugguide.net/node/view/1803663/bgimage is its double. An expert on bugguide.net says that “I also have a feeling most of the Gnamptopelta images in the guide are misidentified Thyreodon.” Both species have been called Spider wasp mimics, too, though the BugLady is not sure what the advantage is, other than the fact that ichneumons are (relatively) docile and spider wasps have no qualms about stinging.

As if its scientific name weren’t enough of a mouthful, the BugLady found an equally tongue-twisting common name for Gnamptopelta obsidianator – the “Bent-shielded Besieger Wasp,” a translation of its scientific name. It is thought that adults may feed on nectar, but it lays its eggs on the caterpillars, especially those found on wild grapes (scroll down https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=12769).

Also seen were a click beetle, a tumbling flower beetle, several wasps and yellowjackets, a bald-faced hornet, a grass-carrying wasp (of future BOTW fame), other species of sweat bees, a daddy longlegs, a small spider, ants, a Summer Spring Azure butterfly, several species of syrphid flies, tephritid, tachinid, flesh, soldier, and green bottle flies, a dangling spider egg case, several species of Ichneumon wasps, and a White-faced Meadowhawk taking a rest.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Procecidochares atra fruit fly

Greetings, BugFans,

The story of this fly (whose name is considerably longer than the fly itself) demonstrates why the BugLady loves BOTW.  Could she dig up a lot of details about how this little beauty lives its life?  She could not.  But she found two interesting side stories about it.

As always, our first episode of the New Year is vocabulary-rich.

Procecidochares atra is a true fruit fly in the family Tephritidae – not one of those red-eyed, flying lab rats that circle your bowl of grapes in summer, or that escape from confinement and live in labs in perpetuity.  Those are more properly called Pomace or Vinegar flies, family Drosophilidae.  Because of the simplicity of their DNA and the ease in raising them, some Drosophila are extraordinarily well-studied and experimented on.

Fun Drosophila Fact: according to Wikipedia, if a female Drosophila melanogaster sees a female larva of an endoparasitic wasp, she will start laying her eggs on rotting fruit or some other alcoholic substrate.  Why?  Because her offspring will imbibe it, and wasps have a low tolerance for alcohol.

But we digress.

Tephritid flies are also called Picture-winged flies and Peacock flies, but those names are more properly applied to other tiny flies.  Those fancy wing patterns are used both in courtship and in defense (more about that in a sec).  Wikipedia says that the females use their telescopic ovipositors to insert their eggs in living plant material.  The larvae of most species are vegetarians, they feed on plant tissue that the eggs are deposited in, or like the genus Procecidochares, they make a gall https://bugguide.net/node/view/443421/bgimage and feed, and finally pupate inside it https://bugguide.net/node/view/857057/bgimage.  Some family members are food specialists while others enjoy a more varied menu; some are agricultural pests, and others help to control agricultural pests.  Adults feed blamelessly on nectar, pollen, honeydew, and decaying vegetation.

There are about 15 species in the genus Procecidochares in North America, all of which are gall-makers on goldenrods, and Procecidochares atra (no common name), found from the Atlantic to the Great Plains, is one of the larger and more common species (here’s a better picture https://bugguide.net/node/view/838430/bgimage).  Procecidochares atra has been recorded on three species of goldenrod.

Interesting Side Story Number 1 (and vocabulary challenge):

Most, but not all, genus members are univoltine (one generation per year), but Procecidochares atra is bivoltine (two generations).  The spring generation forms a stem gall near the base of an emerging goldenrod, and that gall is polythalamous (containing multiple larvae, as many as 21).  Galls of the late-summer generation are formed above mid-stem, often on the buds https://bugguide.net/node/view/1426536/bgimage, and are monothalamous (each houses a single larva).  The galls are leafy rosettes.  The photographer of this gall https://bugguide.net/node/view/1436982/bgimage bagged it to see what kind of fly would emerge and got wasps instead – the wasps had probably parasitized the larva of the gall-making fly (unless they were inquilines).  It’s probable that the adults overwinter and lay eggs as goldenrod starts to grow in spring.

But, as author Isaac Asimov once wrote, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but, ‘That’s funny….'”  Researchers Phillips and Smith studied Procecidochares atra, noting the seasonal and structural differences in its gall making habits and identifying two new host species, Canada goldenrod and horseweed (Erigeron canadensis).  To complicate things even more, the late summer gall they found on horseweed was a stem gall located inches from the ground, not a bud gall.

What’s going on?  The researchers suspected that they might be dealing with what is called a “cryptic species,” a described species that’s actually made up of several distinct species that don’t interbreed but that look (to us) identical.  This would explain the differences in hosts and seasons and gall formation.  Although (using the tools available in the 1990’s) they were “unable to differentiate this specimen [on Erigeron] morphologically from other specimens of Procecidochares atra,” they didn’t rule out the potential for two or more cryptic species, separating the spring, fall, and Erigeron gall makers.  And, of course, they noted that there needed to be a “systematic revision of the genus.”

Interesting side story Number 2:

Yes, males use their patterned wings like semaphore flags in courtship, to signal to females, but tephritids also use them in defense.  In its write-up about the family Tephritidae, bugguide.net says

  • Some spp. mimic jumping spiders. The wing-waving apparently deters the approach of jumping spiders, important predators of the flies. 
  • ‘Spider predation has been intense enough to mold the evolution of prey characteristics: predation by salticids (jumping spiders) has shaped the morphology and behavior of some tephritid flies. Their wing markings resemble the pattern of the legs of jumping spiders; the flies also wave their wings in a fashion that appears to mimic the agonistic behavior of salticids – making them ‘proverbial sheep in wolf’s clothing.’”

Researchers Greene, Orsak, and Whitman studied a tephritid in a different genus, Zonosemata (https://bugguide.net/node/view/836289/bgimage) and wrote.  “When disturbed, these flies hold their wings perpendicular to the body and wave them up and down; this resembles the agonistic leg-waving behavior typical of the jumping spider.  Zonosemata flies initiate this display when stalked by jumping spiders, causing the spiders to display back and retreat.”

A New York Times article about the study elaborates “These spiders use this aggressive behavior to warn other members of their species to stay out of their territory.


When the fly flaps its wings, it fools the spider into thinking it has entered the territory of another spider. As Mr. Greene put it, the fly is sending the counterfeit message ‘’I am a mean jumping spider, so come no closer.’”

For the long version (if you haven’t used up your free NYT reads for the month) see https://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/28/science/fly-mimics-attakcing-spider-to-save-its-skin.html.

A jumping spider may back away from the encounter, but the subterfuge doesn’t work on other predators, even on non-jumping spiders.  The team speculated that even though this behavior hasn’t been observed a lot, it may be more common that we think.

Confession – the BugLady has a bit of trouble seeing a spider in the fly, but if she were ¼” long, it would probably be easier.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Bug o’the Week – Colorado potato beetle redux

Greetings, BugFans,

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it’s all reruns.  Please enjoy this slightly updated episode about a pretty little garden scourge, along with a year-end sermonette. .

This is the story of The Little Beetle That Could, of a half-inch beetle that’s much too good at what it does.  So good, in fact, that it’s on Cooperative Extension Most Wanted Posters across the US, and its emigration to foreign countries was no cause for celebration (but it did inspire some great postage stamps and educational/propaganda posters – scroll through http://www.potatobeetle.org/memorabilia.html).

One source says that the Colorado potato beetle (aka the Potato bug) (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) (“ten lines”) is among the 10 insects that everyone should know.  Gardeners from California through Central America to Florida to Nova Scotia to British Columbia certainly know it – it’s said to make itself at home in more than 3 million square miles of North America (that’s about one-third of the land mass) and close to 2.5 million square miles  of Europe and Asia. 

At the end of a BOTW about the dogbane leaf beetle (August, 2010) the BugLady threw in this “by the way” paragraph about the dogbane beetle’s infamous Chrysomelid leaf beetle relative, the CPB:

The Colorado Potato beetle’s is an amazing story of a home-grown pest.  A native leaf beetle, its “pre-settlement” range was restricted to the Upper Missouri River Basin (alternate sources place its origins in the Rocky Mountains and/or south of the Rio Grande), where it fed unobtrusively on a few members of the Potato family like buffalo bur, ground cherry, and nightshade, in harmony with its environment.  Wherever it started, it was enough of a presence in Colorado by the mid-1860’s that the state’s name was attached to it.  When the settlers pushed West, bringing their kitchen gardens, they planted “Irish potatoes” (potatoes are native to the Andes and had been brought to the Old World a few centuries earlier, had conquered Europe, had come back across the Atlantic to New England in the 1700’s, and then headed West by wagon train).  The CPB adopted potatoes, and with its food source increasing logarithmically, it left the Plains and headed East in 1854, hop-scotching from garden plot to garden plot and arriving on the Atlantic shore twenty years later, a “reverse pioneer.  That CPB’s had quietly switched their main host plant to potatoes was noticed when the first CPB outbreak occurred in 1859, about 100 miles west of Omaha.

Both the adults and the larvae feed on the leaves of plants in the potato family, and the people who measure these things tell us that during its entire larval life, a CPB may eat about 6 square inches of leaves, but that an adult can put away 1.5 square inches of leaves daily.  The larvae feed in groups, compounding the destruction.

No BOTW is complete without a vocabulary challenge – the humpbacked CPB larvae/grubs are cyphosomatic – their dorsal and ventral surfaces are decidedly not parallel.

CPBs are in “survival mode” 24/7.  They lay a lot of eggs on the undersides of potato leaves (as many as 800 in a lifetime), and multiple encounters with multiple partners result in lots of genetic diversity.  They grow fast, have several generations per year, and overwinter in the soil as adults so they can come out swinging when the sun warms the earth in spring.  Adults, including gravid females, may move from field to field, so all of their eggs are not in the same basket.  Add to these external/behavioral attributes the CPBs’ enviable ability to develop an inheritable resistance to almost any of the chemicals we’ve thrown at them (possibly because they’ve “practiced” by rendering harmless the naturally occurring toxic glycoalkaloids of their host plants), and you’ve truly got a force to be reckoned with.

CPBs and their eggs and larvae have a number of natural predators including some species of ladybugs, stinkbugs, and ground beetles, and CPB larvae that hatch first may cannibalize the nearby unhatched eggs of their siblings.  Home and organic gardeners can control them by hand-picking the adults, larvae, and eggs, by mulching or row covering, and by removing related weeds that feed spring adults, but our reactions to their presence have typically been chemical.

The BugLady doesn’t work for Cooperative Extension (any more) and she tries not to get embroiled in debates about pest control measures, but she’s weighing in on this one.  In a nutshell, the BugLady doesn’t like “collateral damage.”  The neonicotinoid insecticides (nicotine-like neurotoxins) that have been successful against CPBs and other agricultural pests since the mid-‘90’s (some CPBs, though, are beginning to show resistance to “neo-nics”).  Neonicotinoids have been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder in bees – the chemicals spread throughout the treated plants, appearing in pollen and other plant parts, and they are transported back to the hive.  They disturb the central nervous system, disorienting homeward bound bees.

They also make bees (wild and domestic, solitary and colonial) more susceptible to lethal fungal and viral infections, and less dramatically, it was recently discovered that exposure to “neo-nics” causes an “insomnia” in honeybees that simply causes them to run out of steam due to sleep loss.  Thirty-five per cent of agricultural crops rely on pollinators, honey bees and native bees alike.  This group of pesticides is also bad for butterfly caterpillars, including Monarchs, and for a variety of native pollinators.

No one can blame farmers for wanting a single product that is effective across the board, and heaven knows we all want to be able to afford to eat, but the complete answer to “How much does it cost?” may take years to calculate.  This is not Either-Or; not Potatoes vs. Butterflies.  Bees are one of the canaries in our mineshaft.  Generalized pesticides kill indiscriminately, randomly lopping off strands of food webs, and that is fundamentally unsustainable.  The result will be an oversimplified world where imbalances favor outbreaks of the pests whose predators perished in the chemical or bacterial barrage, and who then require more chemicals.  And then there’s the domino effect, in which fewer insects means fewer insect-eaters, including birds, bats, spiders, and the BugLady’s beloved dragonflies and more.  A very different world.

The real questions are “Why would we think that we can eliminate organisms, disrupt eons-old connections, and lower biodiversity, and still expect the subtle systems that keep us alive and healthy to keep functioning?”  What can we do about it?

If you shake the tree of BugFans, an awful lot of scientists and educators would fall out.  So, folks, how about it?  In an era where people have drifted pretty far from the natural world, how do we bridge this “disconnect” between our actions and their ecological effects?  How do we educate people about keeping our life-support healthy?

For some great pictures, check the always-excellent University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department’s Featured Creatures: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/potato_beetles.htm.

Meanwhile, do you want fries with that?


Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Riveredge Winter Trail Conditions 1/21

At present, we don’t have sufficient snow for snowshoeing or skiing. We have an icy bed on the trails with about and inch or two of packed snow above in most areas. As of right now the Friday Night Hike is taking place and we suggest wearing boots with some manner of ice cleat (such as Yaktrax, which we also sell in the Nature Store) as much of the snowy base has gradually turned to ice. Trekking poles can prove advantageous if you’re uncertain about your footing.

Join us on Fridays for our weekly January and February Candle-lit Snowshoe Ski Hike. Members of Riveredge can checkout snowshoes for free or at discounted rates.

See out our Visit Page for complete details about exploring Riveredge.

Ski and Snowshoe Map

Bug o’the Week – Red-cross shield bug

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady found this beautiful, rosy Red-cross shield bug while she was wandering around at the north end of the Bog on a fine day in May.  Once upon a time, she would have been correct if she had called this a stink bug.  Stink bugs are in the family Pentatomidae, a large bunch (5,000 species worldwide) of true bugs that defend themselves, as both nymphs and adults, by producing and deploying a smelly liquid from glands in their thorax (the “penta” refers to the five segments in their antennae).  They have a conspicuous “scutellum,” that triangular-to-oblong bit of the thorax that extends back over the abdomen; their lower legs (tarsi) usually have three segments; and they have piercing/drinking straw mouthparts for sucking plant juices.

Here are some common species of Wisconsin stink bugs:

the green stink bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/1330776/bgimage;

the brown stink bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/228181/bgimage;

and a Rough stink bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/1430154/bgimage;

(and some spectacular Southern stinkbugs – https://bugguide.net/node/view/158742/bgpagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/837817/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1329274/bgimage).

Because of the shape of the adults, Pentatomids have also been called shield bugs, but these days, that name is more properly attached to the family Acanthosomatidae, a group that, you guessed it, was moved out of Pentatomidae and elevated to family level.

Acanthosomatidae is a small family (only six of the 180 species live in North America) that favors northern/temperate climes (and in the south, higher elevations).  Their shape is oval, their scutellum moderate, and while their antennae have five segments, their tarsi have only two.  They also have piercing mouthparts https://bugguide.net/node/view/296169/bgimage, and they can also make a stink, though the operative glands are on the abdomen.  Shield bugs have carved out a feeding niche for themselves – unlike their stink bug brethren, most of which (except the predaceous species) feed on juices of herbaceous plants, they’re found on woody plants.

Their family name comes from Greek words acanthos for “spine/thorn” and soma for “body,” which refers to a forward-pointing spine on the underside of the abdomen.  The BugLady couldn’t find a super picture of it, but she thinks you can see it right smack in the middle of this bug https://bugguide.net/node/view/643681/bgimage, near the dark tip of the mouthparts.

Another common name for the Acanthosomatidae is “Parent bugs.”

Parental care is uncommon in insects, whose usual approach to ovipositing is “lay ‘em and leave ‘em.”  Although there are instances of paternal care, most is maternal (isn’t it cool that paternal and parental have the same letters in them?).  Some species of Parent bugs protect both their eggs and the early nymphal instars from predators and parasites, which really boosts survival rates https://bugguide.net/node/view/118724.

If it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t everybody do it?  Not all family members provide hands-on care, but their eggs are not without resources – before they depart, females smear the egg surface with a substance that repels potential marauders.  The goo is created in paired, abdominal organs called Pendergrast’s organs (your esoterica for the day), and the female spreads it on the eggs with her hind legs.  Hanging around and protecting offspring can be costly physically, but producing the protective egg coating is costly, physiologically.  Research by Tsai, Kudo and Yoshizawa demonstrates that the bugs don’t do both, and that Pendergrast’s organs are reduced or absent in species that practice maternal care (which is interesting because some scientists have suggested that the organs also produce pheromones that are part of the courtship).

The BugLady couldn’t find a lot of life history information about the Red-cross shield bug (Elasmostethus cruciatus) (cruciatus means “crossed” and refers to dorsal markings).  They’re found across the continent as far south as northern Georgia and far north into Canada, but uncommonly on the Great Plains.  Their host plants are alder, with maybe some birch thrown in.

Elasmostethus genus members do not provide maternal care for their young.  Based on biographies of other genus members, the RCSB does not put all of her eggs in one basket; she lays lots of small batches of eggs (predators may find some, but not all), and she places them near the developing fruits of alders (a European member of the genus sometimes cannibalizes the eggs of her sisters).  A group of newly-hatched nymphs will hang around their empty eggs until their first molt, and then they start puncturing the fruits.  Here’s a nice collection of pictures http://somethingscrawlinginmyhair.com/2015/03/28/red-cross-shield-bug/.

The Red-cross shield bug that the BugLady spied in May was nearing the end of its life cycle.  They overwinter as adults in sheltered spots, and procreate and die when the warm spring air wakes the plants.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Riveredge Re-Member December Promotion!

Get outdoors and explore during this winter and beyond with a membership to Riveredge Nature Center! Enjoy 10 miles of trails on 379 acres of gorgeous wild habitat to explore any day you wish all year round. Additionally, Riveredge members receive discounts on programs, early registration for Summer Camp, access to member-only events, and more.

Become a Riveredge Nature Center member (or renew your current membership) by the end of the year and * BONUS * keep warm while exploring all winter long with your choice of a FREE Riveredge stocking cap or neck gaiter! Additionally, anyone who purchases an All Access Riveredge membership will receive a $10 coupon toward purchases of $25 or more in the Riveredge Nature Store! Happy Holidays indeed!

If you’d like to ensure that you receive your Riveredge swag by Christmas, please join by December 15th to allow time for processing and shipping.

Giving Tuesday Update: THANK YOU Riveredge Community!

Dear Riveredge Community,


Wow. I have to tell you, this morning I feel a combination of gratitude and astonishment that is hard to put into words.

For Giving Tuesday, we created an initial goal of fundraising $5,000. Then based on your commitment, your leadership, we felt emboldened to double that goal to $10,000. Well…you completely surpassed that benchmark, and you’ve successfully tripled the Riveredge Giving Tuesday fundraising goal and reached a grand total of MORE THAN $15,000! 

This year has been a challenge for Riveredge, just as it has been for everyone. I can’t tell you how much this means to the Riveredge staff to have you in our corner. We’re so excited to begin maximizing these funds to improve our programs and experiences for students and families, and to increase our efforts to restore the land.

Just as we’ve welcomed families to learn and explore across these trails, invited school field trip groups and homeschoolers to embrace this outdoor learning laboratory, and empowered local educators through our Scientist in Residence program – you’ve responded with that same commitment to community.

THANK YOU for being a part of Riveredge, and for supporting the growth that radiates from this vital 379-acre community asset. When it matters most, you’ve come together and offered more support than we even imagined.

From all of us at Riveredge, a heartfelt THANK YOU!

Keep Smiling and Get Outside!


Jessica Jens
Riveredge Executive Director

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News IX

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady’s file of insect-related media stories runneth over, and it’s time to share.  Here’s a potpourri of items on invasive insect species, insect behavior, spectacular insects, and on people discovering new things about insects.  Enjoy (fingers crossed that NatGeo and the New York Times aren’t feeling too proprietary).

Six years ago, the BugLady wrote about the (slowly) growing interest in eating insects (https://uwm.edu/field-station/entomophagy/).  What’s sauce for the goose is apparently sauce for the family pet:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/fido-how-about-some-fly-larvae-dinner-180976270/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20201112-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43896066&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1881004916&spReportId=MTg4MTAwNDkxNgS2.

What do Monarch caterpillars do when food gets scarce?  They get feisty, that’s what.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/monarch-caterpillars-butt-heads-over-milkweed-180976405/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20201125-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43984386&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1882182288&spReportId=MTg4MjE4MjI4OAS2.

In 2011, the BugLady included the alien and invasive (remember – some species are both, but those terms are not synonyms) Brown marmorated stink bug in a Stink bug overview (https://uwm.edu/field-station/stink-bugs-revisited/) and she plans to revisit it someday.  Meanwhile, here’s a story of a potential biological control.  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/scientists-spent-years-plan-import-wasp-kill-stinkbugs-then-it-showed-its-own.

Another invasive, the newly-arrived (2014) Spotted lanternfly, is poised to do a lot of damage in North America.  While it may look like a butterfly https://bugguide.net/node/view/1916873/bgimage, the Spotted Lanternfly is an actual “bug,” – a planthopper https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-the-spotted-lanternfly-180975778/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200922-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43523226&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1841889851&spReportId=MTg0MTg4OTg1MQS2.

Would a “Bugs in the News” episode be complete without the Murder Hornet?  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-live-murder-hornet-captured-us-180975987/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20201005-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43617656&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1860410574&spReportId=MTg2MDQxMDU3NAS2.

Beautiful!!!! https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/worlds-most-interesting-insects-180974748/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200429-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42388948&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1743054653&spReportId=MTc0MzA1NDY1MwS2.

Plus a great story about Leaf/stick insects – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/01/science/leaf-stick-insects-phyllium-asekiense.html?campaign_id=61&emc=edit_ts_20201201&instance_id=24610&nl=the-great-read&regi_id=106911568&segment_id=45778&te=1&user_id=48ae4cbec4a693ab58f7a257b0a261ad.

And finally – this is one of the BEST VIDEOS EVER – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/ghost-orchids-florida-surprising-pollinators-moths/.

Stay healthy,

The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – Square-headed wasp

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady is living proof that there’s a big difference between looking and seeing.  For years, she’s been photographing these little black and yellow wasps and filing them under “Potter wasps,” but she had an “Oh Duh” moment this summer, and yeah, yeah – she sees it now.  As Henry David Thoreau once said, “We must look a long time before we can see.”

So – not potter wasps https://bugguide.net/node/view/1906174/bgimage – these are Square-headed wasps in the family Crabronidae.  Members of the family were formerly placed in the Thread-waisted wasp family Sphecidae, a family that includes some conspicuous beauties like the Blue mud dauber, the Black and yellow mud dauber, the Great golden digger wasp, and the Great black wasp, but now they’re viewed as a separate family.  Stand by for further taxonomic tweaking.

We have visited the Crabronidae before, in the form of the organ-pipe mud daubers (https://uwm.edu/field-station/organ-pipe-mud-dauber/) and the sand wasps (https://uwm.edu/field-station/sand-wasps/).  It’s a large and diverse bunch, with about 9,000 species worldwide (1,225 in North America).

The name “Square-headed wasps” only applies to species in the subfamily Crabroninae, which has 4,700 species (520 here) – a number of sources call them digger wasps.

Square-headed wasps are solitary wasps that use their impressive jaws (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1684606/bgimage) to make nests in the ground, in hollow stems, in the pith of broken stems, and in old galleries (tunnels) chewed in wood by beetle larvae.

Solitary wasps typically create an egg chamber and stuff killed/stunned/bitten/stung spiders and/or small insects into it (scroll down to the fly-stuffed stem https://prairieecologist.com/tag/ectemnius/).  Here’s a Square-headed wasp with a crane fly https://bugguide.net/node/view/110413/bgimage.  Mom lays an egg on one of the bodies, closes the chamber up, and moves on.  The carnivorous larva hatches out into its own personal pantry stocked with enough food to get it to the pupal stage.  Some species of Crabronids, like the sand wasp above, do what’s called “progressive provisioning” – instead of providing a cache, the female sticks around her egg tunnels and brings food to her developing young – but Square-headed wasps seem to use the standard method.  Many Square-headed wasps are very specific about the kinds of insects they pursue.  Adults feed on nectar.

The first question (but never the last, of course) is “which Square-headed wasp is this?” Alas, the BugLady can’t provide a definitive answer.  She thinks she’s photographed several species, and she’s been squinting at pictures until she’s cross-eyed, and she’s guessing that her wasps are either in the genus Lestica https://bugguide.net/node/view/624516/bgimage (three species in North America) or Ectimnius https://bugguide.net/node/view/1406440 (27 species), or Crossocerus https://bugguide.net/node/view/214928/bgimage the Equilateral Square-headed Wasps (!) (40 species in North America but only a few have yellow markings on the abdomen).  They are differentiated by field marks like the sharpness of the longitudinal grooves along the inner eye margin.  BugFans are always welcome to weigh in.

Their MO’s are similar, differing slightly in the medium they pick for their egg chambers and the type of insect they hunt in behalf of their young.

The BugLady gives Thanks for the six-legged and the eight-legged and the no-legged.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Riveredge Nature Center and MMSD Help Protect 287-acre Saukville property with Conservation Easement

Riveredge Nature Center and MMSD Help Protect 287-acre Saukville property with Conservation Easement.